How BooKer t. wAsHinGton HeLPed miLLions oF Former sLAves Go t

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Corbis (School Children); Meg Eastman/Virginia Historical Society (Booker T.
Washington); Granger, NYC/The Granger Collection (Hampton Institute)
How Booker T. Washington
Helped Millions of Former
4 Scholastic Scope • FEBRUARY 2015
Why was education
important to Booker
T. Washington?
n a cold October night in
1872, a 16-year-old boy
named Booker Washington
walked through the dark
streets of Richmond,
Virginia. The howls of wild dogs
echoed through the cold air. Thieves
lurked in snaking alleys. Booker
shivered in his threadbare clothes.
He was hundreds of miles from his home in West
Virginia, and he knew not one soul in Richmond. He had no
money, no food, and nowhere to spend the night. Walking
fast was a good trick for keeping warm, but sometime
around midnight, Booker’s tired muscles started to ache so
badly he could not take another step.
He found a spot where the wooden sidewalk was raised
off the ground. Underneath was a space just big enough for
a skinny boy like Booker to curl up for the night. He crawled
into the dark, dank opening. He closed his eyes, trying not
to think about the rats and snakes that might be curled up
all around him.
Slaves Go to School
Two weeks before, Booker had left home with a few
dollars in his pocket
and a dream in
his heart: to go to
school. But not just
any school; Booker
longed to attend the
Hampton Institute,
one of few boarding
schools in the world
that would accept a
former slave
like him.
 • FEBRUARY 2015
Institute was 500
miles from Booker’s
hometown in West
Virginia. The first part
SLAVERY Like this enslaved
woman and her children, Booker
faced much hardship and
suffering growing up.
potatoes. But the flies
had a better chance of
tasting that food than
Booker did.
However, it wasn’t
of the journey hadn’t
his owners’ food for
been so bad—a long
which Booker most
train ride and a bumpy
hungered. It was
trip on a stagecoach.
education. If only
But then he ran out of
he could learn to
money. So he walked.
read! He’d caught
He walked and walked
glimpses of school
until finally he arrived
when he had carried
in Richmond. Then he
the Burroughses’
was stranded, and he
daughters’ books to
still had 82 miles to go.
their schoolhouse.
Anyone who noticed
He’d gaze through the
the ragged boy sleeping
window, mesmerized,
under the sidewalk
watching the kids
would have assumed he
at their desks and
was just another former
straining to hear the
slave, starving and without hope.
happened to them. Where Booker
teacher call out spelling words and
Nobody would have guessed that
lived, what he ate, and how he
math problems. To Booker, school
one day, Booker T. Washington
spent every minute of every day
seemed like paradise.
would be one of the most famous
was up to his owners. This was the
men on Earth.
reality for the 4 million enslaved
in that school. In Virginia and other
people in America.
Southern states, it was illegal for a
A Piece of Property
Booker was born in Virginia
Booker was luckier than many.
But Booker did not dare set foot
slave to learn to read or write. An
The Burroughses rarely whipped
education gives a person power,
sometime in 1856. Like most
or beat their slaves. Still, life was
and the last thing a slave owner
enslaved Americans, he never knew
harsh. Booker’s family lived in a
wanted was a powerful slave—a
his actual birthday. For his owners,
tiny shack that was roasting in
slave who could read a map and
Elizabeth and James Burroughs,
summer and freezing in winter.
plot his escape to the North, a slave
the birth of a new slave was no
They slept on filthy rags spread
who could read books filled with
more important than the arrival of
across the dirt floor. Supper was
ideas and inspiration. Booker knew
a new calf. Booker wasn’t legally
sometimes leftover pig slop.
what happened to slaves caught
a person, after all; he was a piece
One of Booker’s first jobs was to
glancing at a newspaper. They were
of property to be used and sold
stand in the Burroughses’ dining
sold, or whipped, or even killed.
when his owners didn’t want him
room swatting away flies so they
And so day after day, Booker
wouldn’t set their sticky feet upon
walked the Burroughs girls to
the food. Booker’s mouth watered
school, struggling to keep his eyes
her three children fiercely, but
as he breathed in the tantalizing
off the forbidden books he carried
she had no control over what
smells of juicy meats and buttery
in his arms. He prayed for the day
Booker’s mother, Jane, loved
6 Scholastic Scope • FEBRUARY 2015
PAGE 6: Schomburg Library/NYPL. PAGE 7: Granger, NYC/The Granger Collection (All Images)
The Hampton
that his life would change.
As it would turn out, that day
was not so far away.
The Civil War
In 1861, when Booker was
decades before, and most
Northerners believed it should
be abolished in the South too.
Southerners vehemently disagreed,
Virginia. When the Civil
and many were willing to fight to
War ended, Booker and his family
the death to keep their slaves.
were free.
about 5 years old, war broke out
The Civil War raged for four
in America. The Civil War pitted
years and killed about 750,000
the states of the North against the
men. In 1863, President Abraham
states of the South. Booker heard
Lincoln signed the Emancipation
people in the South was little
about the war as he swatted flies
Proclamation, which officially
better than life as a slave. Booker
in the Burroughses’ dining room—
freed all slaves in the states
and his family moved to
about gruesome battles that left
fighting against the North, which
Malden, West Virginia,
Truly Free?
But life for most freed black
thousands of men dead on bloodsoaked fields. He learned that
the Southern states wanted to rip
themselves away from America and
form a new country of their own.
What amazed Booker was
that all this terrible fighting was
mainly about him—about slaves.
Northern states had banned slavery
Students at the Hampton
Institute learned skills that
would enable them to find
jobs. Here, students learn
cheese making. Above:
Hampton students perform
in a musical group.
 • FEBRUARY 2015
found a job in a salt mine. Within
A Fire Inside
Booker held his breath as he
Then one day, Booker heard two
listened to the men talk. Their
weeks, Booker and his brother
men talking about the Hampton
words sparked a fire inside him. It
were working there too. A school
Institute, a special school created
didn’t matter that Hampton was
opened in a nearby town, but
to train black students to become
500 miles away or that it cost $70 a
Booker and his brother couldn’t
teachers or to get jobs in other
year, a fortune for Booker’s family.
enroll. Their family needed every
cent they could get, so instead of
going to school, Booker spent long
days in the dark mine. Instead
of learning to read and write, he
Booker had to go there.
His hands dug
learned how to shovel salt into
Up from Slavery.
barrels. It was the kind of work that
Yanked the weeds
broke a person’s body and spirit,
Sprouted from seeds
yet it was the only kind of work
sown on the Civil War’s battleground:
available to most former slaves.
Without an education, Booker
Once emancipated, stay enslaved to common labor.
realized, he would never be truly
But this grassroots griot
free. And so in that dark and
fed his people the true story.
sweaty mine, Booker began to
He believed black men and women could rise
educate himself.
by starting down on their knees
He learned to recognize the
to build, brick by brick,
numbers etched into the sides
the foundation for a school
of barrels. As he shoveled, he
to call their own.
whispered his ABCs. His mother
scraped together some pennies
and bought Booker an old spelling
book. Booker memorized it.
When the nearby school began
the all-black Institute for an “industrial education.”
A kind of learning that comes
with Grade-A elbow grease
offering classes at night, Booker
to teach
would rush over after work from
its lessons.
the mine, his stomach empty,
Eager Educator.
The “Great Accommodator.”
always packed, and not only with
Preached the Gospel According to Booker T.:
kids. There were grandmothers,
To achieve racial harmony
his skin crusted with sweat and
salt. The tiny schoolhouse was
mothers with babies, and old
men hunched over from decades
of picking cotton. Across the
South, former slaves were starving
for education. But there were
not nearly enough schools and
Black people should take pride
in skilled service-work
rendered with the utmost dignity.
Poem by Andrea Davis Pinkney
teachers to teach them.
8 Scholastic Scope • FEBRUARY 2015
From HAND IN HAND by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Text copyright ©2012
by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Published by Disney Jump at the Sun Books.
digitalskillet/Getty Images
where Booker’s stepfather had
For two years, Booker worked
and worked, saving every cent he
An Inspiration
Booker finally made it to
these ideas with him after he left
Hampton to teach in Malden, and
could. The day he left, half the
Hampton. He became a star
town of Malden showed up to see
student, paying his school fees by
him off. They pressed pennies and
working as the school’s janitor.
director of the Tuskegee Institute,
nickels into his hands, hugged him
Booker’s time at Hampton
a new college in Alabama for black
tight, told him they had no doubts
gave him clear ideas about what
students. A gifted orator, he began
he would achieve his dream.
kind of education would be most
to spread his ideas about industrial
useful to America’s former slaves,
education around the country.
as he slept under that sidewalk
who were known as freedmen
What good was knowing Greek
in Richmond. When he awoke,
and freedwomen. At Hampton,
or reading Shakespeare, Booker
he was ravenous and aching
students didn’t only learn to read
asked, if you didn’t have skills that
but determined. He found a job
and write and do math problems.
would lead to a well-paid job?
helping unload a ship.
They also learned skills like sewing,
Those voices whispered to him
then to attend college.
In 1881, Booker became the
Some people criticized Booker.
cheese making, blacksmithing.
Was he saying that blacks shouldn’t
earned enough to buy food for
Booker became a passionate
become as educated as whites? Did
the final part of his journey to
believer in what was known as
he believe that blacks were capable
Hampton Institute.
industrial education. He carried
of working only with their hands—
Within a few days, Booker had
and not their minds?
Today, most historians believe
that Booker T. Washington was
simply being pragmatic. His goal
was to help former slaves escape
poverty and lead lives of dignity.
Over the next three decades,
Booker became one of the bestknown figures in the U.S., a writer
and speaker who inspired people
around the world. He used his fame
to raise money for thousands of
schools for black students across
the South.
Courtesy of Tuskegee University Archives
Washington (center) with
his wife, Margaret (left), his
daughter, Portia, and his sons,
Ernest (left) and Booker Jr.
“If you want to lift yourself
up, lift up someone else,” Booker
famously wrote.
No wonder Booker T.
Washington rose up so high.
writing contest
What challenges did Booker T. Washington face in getting an education? Why was education so
important to former slaves? Answer both questions in a short essay. Support your ideas with
details from the article and (optionally) poem and video. Send your essay to BOOKER T.
CONTEST. Five winners will get a signed copy of Hand in Hand by Andrea Davis Pinkney.
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Online • FEBRUARY 2015